Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What's the spin?

Coca-Cola vows to change perception of its practices abroad
The Associated Press - ATLANTA

The Coca-Cola Co. vowed Tuesday to change the perception of people who still believe it permits abusive practices abroad, a tough sell to some shareholders who bombarded the beverage giant with questions about human rights and water depletion.

At his first annual meeting since taking over the Atlanta-based company's top post, chief executive Neville Isdell had his hands full pushing through Coke's routine business of the day.

Shareholders didn't want to talk about re-electing the board of directors or appointing an independent auditor. Instead, they questioned Isdell about issues he's heard before, namely the killings of several union workers at Coke bottling plants in Colombia and accusations that some of Coke's plants in India have depleted local groundwater.

Isdell said Coke has not done anything wrong in the two countries, noting that government inquiries in Colombia have dismissed the accusations that Coke was complicit in the deaths by failing to protect workers there. He also said a high court in India has sided with Coke over the water dispute. Even so, Isdell conceded that the company's best efforts to put the questions to rest have not been successful. Last year's annual meeting also descended into questions about alleged abuses abroad.

"As long as anyone continues to believe these allegations, we're going to take them seriously" and work to change people's perceptions, Isdell said.

Isdell turned down a request from one angry shareholder representative to have a face-to-face debate with him, saying "I get many of those (requests) and I respectfully decline that at this point in time." Later, he said the company will engage "anybody who believes, even though they're wrong, the accusations."

According to preliminary voting results released during the meeting, the two company proposals were approved. Three shareholder proposals voted on at the meeting in Wilmington, Del., including one that would have restricted compensation for current executives and another that would have restricted severance packages given to departing executives, were rejected.


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